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K.F. v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 29, 2019

K.F. APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-18-189] HONORABLE TROY B. BRASWELL, JR., JUDGE.

          Brian G. Brooks, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brian G. Brooks, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brooke Jackson Gasaway, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE.

         The Faulkner County Circuit Court adjudicated appellant K.F. delinquent after finding that she had committed the offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree as an accomplice. On appeal, K.F. argues that the circuit court erred in premising her criminal culpability on her status as an accomplice, raising two subpoints: (1) she was not in the class of persons who could statutorily commit the offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree; and (2) she did not solicit, advise, encourage, or coerce another person to commit the offense of endangerment, nor did she aid, agree to aid, or attempt to aid another person in planning or committing the offense of endangerment. Additionally, K.F. contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the delinquency adjudication. We find merit in her first argument on appeal, and we reverse and dismiss.

         I. Background Facts

         Alysia Watkins is the mother of one-year-old K.W. Watkins hired K.F.'s sister, MaKayla Brewster, to babysit K.W. in Watkins's home. Despite the original plan, Watkins agreed that MaKayla would provide the babysitting duties in MaKayla's home. K.F. and another friend, T.M., were at MaKayla's house while MaKayla was in charge of the child. While MaKayla was supervising K.W., T.M. posted a video to her Snapchat account depicting two scenes. In the first scene, K.F. is activating a taser or stun-gun device near K.W. while the baby is lying on a bed. Although the video never actually shows the device touching the baby, the audio portion reflects that K.W. is crying. MaKayla is not seen in this scene until the very end when she approaches K.W., who is still lying on the bed. In the second scene, MaKayla is depicted slapping K.W. on the head. K.F. is not present in the second scene, although T.M. could be heard laughing and saying, "do it again." The Conway Police Department investigated the incident, and they obtained as evidence a "Cheetah Cyclone" stun gun from K.F.'s mother.

         K.F. was subsequently charged with endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-27-205(a)(1) (Repl. 2013). The juvenile division of the Faulkner County Circuit Court held an adjudication hearing. After hearing testimony and viewing the Snapchat video, the court adjudicated K.F. delinquent as an accomplice to the offense. K.F. timely appealed.

         II. Standard of Review

         On appeal, K.F. contends that she was not liable as an accomplice. She frames the issue as "whether, under the language of the controlling criminal statutes, K.F. could be liable as an accomplice when she was not within the class of persons who could commit the underlying offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree and she was the person who committed the act alleged to have endangered the minor." Our analysis therefore requires us to construe the language of both Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-27-205-the endangerment statute-and Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-2-403 (Repl. 2013)-the statute providing for accomplice liability.

         In considering the meaning and effect of a statute, we first construe it just as it reads, giving the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning in common language. Magness v. State, 2012 Ark. 16, 386 S.W.3d 390. When the language is plain and unambiguous, we will not resort to rules of statutory construction, and the analysis need go no further. Id. We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo because it is for this court to decide what a statute means. Id. When dealing with a penal statute, this court strictly construes the statute in favor of the party sought to be penalized. Holcomb v. State, 2014 Ark. 141, 432 S.W.3d 600.

         III. Analysis

         A. Endangering the Welfare of a Minor

         We begin our statutory analysis by examining the plain language of the endangerment statute. A person commits the offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the first degree if, being a parent, guardian, person legally charged with care or custody of a minor, or a person charged with supervision of a minor, he or she purposely engages in conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to a minor. Ark. Code Ann. ...


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